As soon as I could I moved to a city filled with misfits. I needed a sense of belonging, and New York provided me with friends and neighbors misunderstood in their former lives. Growing up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey attending a large high school and an affluent Hebrew School felt wrong to me. I yearned to fit in, but felt so different. I imbued my classmates with confidences and affluences they probably didn’t possess at such a young age. I had learned to harbor secrets, while watching acquaintances seemingly share their lives openly. I had to get out.
Yet, returning to attend my 40th High School reunion, it came to my attention that I had missed so much. I saw old friends, and remembered the special moments we shared. I remember viewing my first Christmas tree all decorated, feeling a sense of awe at the beauty of the season. I remember playing outside in a friend’s backyard, being called in for a home cooked lunch. I remember running around until dinner-time, when we all regrettably had to leave the fun. There were fireflies to catch, and bubbles to chase.
And, later, there were whispered calls to friends late at night bemoaning our parents’ cluelessness. There was clothes swapping, and sleepovers when we would double or triple date before meeting up to stay over our friend’s place. A group of us cut school to attend the Flyers’ Stanley Cup parade in 1975, feeling cool in Philadelphia. There was laughing in study hall, and gloating over a reading in Shakespeare, and the bewilderment of a simple biology class. There was babysitting, and the decision of which mall to shop with our earnings, Echelon, Cherry Hill or Moorestown.
I left Cherry Hill because I hadn’t grown up. I remembered all the perceived rejection. The awkwardness of trying to be intelligible at a social. The ignorance of how to apply to college in a town where education was highly valued. The clothes that were off-brand. I was not your average Cherry Hill girl. Oh, and how I longed to be average then. And, yet, in attending the reunion, it was clear to me how unique we all were. I was ashamed of my struggles. It was that shame that kept me feeling separate, not my colleagues. Returning was a gift. The kindnesses of old friends was palpable. The warmth in the room was tangible. And, the good feelings were ever present. We had all matured. I was accepted for who I was and who I am now. Conversely, I joyfully appreciated all who I saw.
The reunion was a helpful reminder of our connections and our individuality. Both are valuable. Time teaches that.